The Green Claims Code: What you need to know

Mar 21, 2022 by Mark Baines Category: Business

The Green Claims Code was introduced by the government since COP26 in response to the growing number of claims made by products known as ‘greenwashing’.

Concern has been growing for some time about false claims of environmental responsibility, carbon footprints and ecological sustainability, but there has been no body or mechanism in place to investigate these claims and ensure that they are truthful and accurate, and can be supported by evidence.

The authorities estimate that 40% of environmental sustainability claims are false, resulting in a marked rise in ‘brandelism’ where activists target guilty organisations – eg Greenpeace versus the big banks.

Sustainability is complex, one claim giving rise to a whole lot of other issues. It’s a deep rabbit hole, and once you start going down it, it’s difficult to satisfy everyone.

The trouble is, almost everyone is doing it now. We work in business to business marketing, where ESG (Environmental, Social and corporate Governance) has become a massive priority since COP26, so it’s something I need to understand in order to protect my clients’ interests and ensure that their claims do not land them in deep water.

And because us marketers provide the communications link to nearly all an organisation’s stakeholders, the responsibility rests with us – so we have to understand the Code and get it right.

The Code was written and is administered by the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) and can be summarised as ‘say what you do, and do what you say’.

Anyone can use to it, so for example the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) took Alpro to task. The complainant, who believed commercial almond farming caused environmental damage, challenged whether the claim “GOOD FOR THE PLANET” on their almond milk packaging was misleading and could be substantiated. Their claim was upheld, and although Alpro was not fined, the cost to them of reputation, reverse distribution, destroyed produce and packaging, and legal costs ran into many thousands of pounds.

In order to comply with the Code, a company has to be able to answer six questions; Green claims MUST:

  1. Be truthful and accurate: Businesses must live up to the claims they make about their products, services, brands and activities
  2. Be clear and unambiguous: The meaning that a consumer is likely to take from a product’s messaging and the credentials of that product should match
  3. Not omit or hide important information: Claims must not prevent someone from making an informed choice because of the information they leave out
  4. Only make fair and meaningful comparisons: Any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose
  5. Consider the full life cycle of the product: When making claims, businesses must consider the total impact of a product or service. Claims can be misleading where they don’t reflect the overall impact or where they focus on one aspect of it but not another
  6. Be substantiated: Businesses should be able to back up their claims with robust, credible and up to date evidence

Here’s a Sustainable Marketing Action Plan, where I propose that you need to work through the following three stages:

  • Inwards – where are you now?
  • Upwards – where is it in the Boardroom agenda?
  • Outwards – how are you going to communicate it?

In other words, think of the four Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion – and look at them through the lens of sustainability. That way you’ll get responsible marketing, and you won’t be tripped up by the Code.

I’m indebted to CIM, Gemma Butler and Michelle Carvill for much of the information and ideas contained in this article.

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